LA DOTTA, LA GRASSA, LA ROSSA, LA TURRITA.
An enchanting medieval city whose history is intertwined with that of great personalities who worked in science, literature and art, Bologna is today an essential point of reference for contemporary European culture.
Different from other Italian cities, Bologna has four distinguishing nicknames. The first one, La Dotta (erudite), refers to the great cultural tradition of the capital of Emilia Romagna, which boasts the oldest University in the western world, founded in 1088. The Archiginnasio building is the ancient seat of the University, with essential testimonies of its glorious past, such as the theatre, where corpses were dissected during anatomy lessons.
The other name, La Grassa (fat), is a reminder of the city´s excellent gastronomic culture and its way of enjoying life. At the end of the XIX century, Pellegrino Artusi, in his famous gastronomic book, said: "when you hear of Bolognese cuisine, do the reverence it deserves".
As for the third nickname, La Rossa (red), the reasons are different. First of all, Bologna is the regional capital with the highest concentration of automobile industry, so much so that it is considered the "land of motors": the red Ducati, the red Ferrari, the Lamborghini, the Maserati. In addition to this, the buildings in the historic centre, one of the best-preserved in Europe, have a particular shade of red as their predominant colour. Furthermore, there is another reason for its political nature. Since the post-war period, the city has been a stronghold of the Communist Party, whose symbolic colour is red.
Compared to the late Middle Ages, the city´s urban planning has changed considerably. To remember its ancient structure, important buildings such as the most famous ones have risen to symbolise the Bolognese skyline, the Torre degli Asinelli and Garisenda. The last most recurrent epithet is La Turrita, due to the more than 150 towers erected between the XII and XIII centuries, as an emblem of the prestige and power of the illustrious Bolognese families.
Seeing Italian cities above always provokes a little heartbeat, and Bologna is no exception.
So, we will visit an unpublished viewpoint, the terrace of the Basilica of San Petronio, which was not accessible to ordinary people until recently. The scaffolding that leads to the viewing platform was erected to restore the rear façade of the Basilica. The entrance ticket is used to finance the work. It can be reached by a lift or stairs, protected by metal nets. The view from here is truly spectacular!
Address: Piazza Galvani,
LUST ON THE PALATE: MORTADELLA
It is perfumed to make your mouth water, tasty and at the same time delicate, soft, velvety.
Perfect for "humble" sandwiches and rediscovered in high-profile recipes, the prized Bologna sausage is a true triumph of gastronomy, with centuries of tradition. Mortadella was one of the first products to be protected from imitations, which still exist but cannot boast the pride of having the PGI seal.
According to the Production Regulation, authentic mortadella is made exclusively from pork, with a selected lean part, mostly shoulder, and a piece of white lard obtained from the throat. The Consorzio Della Mortadella di Bologna PGI defines it as a ´cooked sausage made exclusively from pork, cylindrical or oval in shape, pink in colour, and unmistakable, intense and slightly spicy aroma´. With or without pistachios, both versions are permitted.
Once the meat has been processed, it is stuffed, tied and cooked in dry air ovens (cooking times vary between 8 and 26 hours). They are then cooled in a shower of water. This technique allows the meat to remain soft and release the best of its aroma, making it unique among the world´s sausages.
The history of mortadella goes back a long way. In the Bologna Archaeological Museum in Bologna, you can admire a trace from Roman times that testifies the production of this salami thanks to a mortar and pestle, a tool used to grind the meat. This discovery suggests that the name mortadella derives from mortarium. Another theory, however, is that it comes from myrtatum because myrtle was used to season this sausage, which was very popular in Roman times.
Curiously, an official recipe for mortadella dates back to the XVII century: it was written by the agronomist Vincenzo Tanara, indicating precisely the ingredients and quantities.
Such was the love of the Bolognese for this product that since 1661 there had been a statute of teaching, published in an invitation to tender by Cardinal Farnese: it indicated the rules for the production whose guarantee was the responsibility of the Corporation of the Salaroli.
The mortadella, which obtained the seal, had a mortar as a symbol.
For centuries it was considered an elite product because it was expensive. Over the centuries, mortadella has been democratised, even becoming the emblem of workers´ lunches who enjoy it in a sandwich.
Since 1998, the Typical Geographical Indication of Mortadella of Bologna has been recognised, and in 2001 the Consortium was created to protect and promote this excellence.
Mortadella is delicious freshly sliced, but it is also used in traditional recipes to fill tortellini and, like a mousse, to flavour canapés.
The historic charcuterie shops still exist in Bologna and protect this tradition.
Address: Salumeria Simoni. Vía Drapperie, 5
THE QUADRILATERAL OF TEMPTATIONS
An extraordinary itinerary takes us through the streets of Bologna´s ancient market, the Quadrilatero. This district, located at the back of the famous Maggiore Square, was already home to most of the artisans´ guilds since the Middle Ages and is today one of the most characteristic places in the city.
The area is popular among locals and tourists, and the mostly pedestrianised streets are often bustling with people and life. In fact, there are many bars, delis and all kinds of shops, from extra luxury to mid-range, including fruit and vegetable stalls and fish counters where the Bolognese usually shop. The quadrilateral is a must-see for first-time visitors to the city.
As we have said, this neighbourhood is undoubtedly a favourite for lovers of good food as you can find all kinds of local specialities. In contrast, you can have an aperitif in many wine bars with a good platter of mortadella and other typical cured meats.
In Pescherie Vecchie Street, you will also find some of the best delicatessens among fruits and vegetables. You can buy tortellini, tagliatelle, green lasagne and other fresh handmade pasta according to taste.
Osteria del Sole, the oldest tavern in the city, is a place to drink good wine and discover the true tradition of Bologna. Since 1465 in Dei Ranocchi Street, it was possible to drink and socialise seated around wooden tables. The setting is ideal for those who want to make friends.
Tamburini is one of the best-known spots and has been operating non-stop from 1932 to the present day. Its fame is due to the excellent care taken in selecting and preparing the products.
On 12 Clavature Street is the entrance to this culinary paradise. The Di Mezzo Market awaits us with numerous stands that house the excellence of Italian cuisine.
Among the streets that run along the Quadrilatero, you will find everything you are looking for, like the ancient goldsmith tradition, which is still very much alive and many jewellers are based in this area.
In addition to tradition, there is no shortage of modern luxury clothing brands such as Borbonese and Elisabetta Franchi. Galleria Cavour on 14 Farini St is entirely dedicated to luxury with a wide selection of the best Italian and international brands for the more discerning. Similarly, small historic shops survive in the old shopping streets, often family-run, where the trade has been handed down from generation to generation.
Address: Pescherie Vecchie St., Clavature St., Drapperie St., Farini St.
THE STONE SCREAM
There is more than one reason why the poet Gabriele D´Annunzio, entering the Church of Santa Maria Della Vita in one autumn evening to listen to sacred music, was petrified in front of Niccolò dell´Arca´s group of seven terracotta figures.
It is a masterpiece of XV century sculpture whose strength and dramatic intensity can hardly be found in art history.
The work consists of six life-size figures surrounding Christ, lying with his head on a pillow.
The Virgin with her hands clasped in fists one against the other appears bent to one side almost as if devastated, her face tormented by grief at the loss of her son; St. John, the only man, is at the centre of the stage and weeps as he touches his chin with the palm of his hand; the Magdalene, who comes running as if pushed by a mysterious force, appears with a deformed face, her mouth wide open, from which an atrocious cry seems to come out; Mary of Cleophas, her clothes shaken by the wind, stretches out her hands as if to hide the scene of death and appears to be almost falling. Mary Salome puts her hands on her knees to support herself and not succumb to agony. A kneeling figure in Renaissance garb is separated from the others, probably representing the client. However, many identify him as Nicodemus, the Jew who took Jesus down from the cross and Joseph of Arimathea.
Jesus, with his body battered by suffering: thin, emaciated, with his mouth half-open, emanating a feeling of compassion for his condition and disgust for what he has suffered.
Although at that time, in 1463, Niccolò dall´Arca´s work was not given much consideration because it was made of terracotta and not marble, today, however, it has rightly been re-evaluated, not only for the pathos it exudes but also because it is a particularly daring representation: no one, until then, had ever depicted figures with such faces disfigured by pain, with all the naturalness of people who do not hide what they feel, for many even unseemly. But for this very reason, it has become proverbial, so much so that in Bologna, when a rather unkempt woman is to be described, it is said that she looks like a Maria Della Vita.
So, you can´t leave Bologna without having your photo taken with the sculptural group that the poet admired so much.
Address: 8 Clavature St.
FOUR CHURCHES IN ONE
The Basilica of Santo Stefano is undoubtedly one of the most exciting places in Bologna. The walls of this incredibly charming structure testify to the trace of time. Its appearance, apparently messy, captures the attention of whoever arrives in Piazza Santo Stefano.
It is also known as the "Complex of the Seven Churches". It is difficult to say what the true origin of this name is. Still, the most reputable hypothesis refers to the initial project.
In the V century, St. Petronius, bishop of the city, ordered the construction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Still, his wish was to create a complex of seven churches reflecting the sites of Christ´s passion.
Entering the complex, we find ourselves inside the Church of the Crucifix, whose construction took place during the VII century. Although it is sober and unadorned, it impresses visitors with a feeling of austere devotion. The Crucifix of 1300 by Simone dei Crocifissi and the lament of the dead Christ stand out.
The crypt of the sepulchre extends under the hierarchy. Here, legend has it that the columns reveal the proper height of Jesus Christ by measuring from the base to the capital.
The most striking attraction of the complex is a visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
This part, believed to have been erected over an ancient temple of Isis, dates back to the V century.
It was designed to faithfully reproduce the place where the remains of Christ were placed after his death.
Numerous rites were performed in this octagonal room in the Middle Ages. It is entirely dominated
by the great pulpit. In fact, the severe aspect and the grandeur of the cross, placed at the top, arouse the respect of those who visit this place. For a long time, the relics of Saint Petronius were kept there.
The third façade on the left side is the Church dedicated to Saints Vitale and Agricola. This is the oldest section of the complex, housing the remains of Bologna´s first two martyrs and saints, whose persecution took place at Diocletian, around 305 AD.
Leaving the Church of the Sepulchre, you cross the Courtyard of Pilate, which symbolises the place where Jesus was condemned. Under the entrance, you can admire some truly unique tombstones, such as that of a tailor in which two real scissors are nailed.
The capitals of the cloister, with their monstrous forms, would have inspired Dante Alighieri.
The last stages of the itinerary lead to the Church of Martyrdom and the Saint Stefano Museum. This Church underwent several changes by the Longobards, becoming a baptistery and later remodelled by the Benedictines. The wooden nativity scene with human-sized figures is of great interest, dating from the XII century.
Address: Santo Stefano Square
ASINELLI Y GARISENDA
After 498 steps, you will have a different perspective of the city.
The Degli Asinelli Tower is the symbol of the city of Bologna and is located on the ancient Via Emilia. It had military defence functions and represented the social prestige of the Asinelli family. It was built between 1109 and 1119, and with its 97.20 metres, it is the highest medieval leaning tower in the world. The interior staircase has 498 steps. There is a fortress to house the soldiers on guard at its base. It also has a minor sister, the Garisenda, only 47 metres.
According to the legend, a farmer-owned two sturdy donkeys, which helped him daily in the strenuous work in the fields. He was not a very wealthy man and worked hard, hoping that he could expand his areas by buying other lands for his family, but especially for the sake of his beloved and only son.
One day, while they were digging in an isolated piece of land, the donkeys, as if going mad, began to kick and then explore more and more insistently. Something appeared in the earth that caught the farmer´s attention: a boot covered with precious stones and full of gold and silver coins. Amazed by what he had just found, the farmer called this fortune "the treasure of the donkeys" (asinelli in Italian).
Being a prudent and cautious man, he did not speak to anyone about what had happened, not even to his wife, but he did not keep all the treasure to himself. On the contrary, he would give a little more money to his wife to buy what the family needed from time to time.
As time went by, their standard of living improved, but always discreetly. The farmer´s son grew into cultured, educated by the best tutors and teachers.
The young man fell in love with a girl belonging to one of the most influential families in the city.
Despite being deeply in love, the young couple saw no solution to their future: too much social difference. The girl´s family would never have agreed to shake hands with a boy of such humble origins. She could bear no more and cried desperately.
Her beloved, suffering because of her, finally decided to face the noble family. He presented himself at the palace and asked for the girl´s hand. Knowing his humble origins, the father burst out laughing. He accepted the proposal as long as the young man could build a tall tower. That same night, the young man confided the problem to his father. The father gave him the treasure he had jealously guarded until then, and work began constructing the tower, now known as the "Degli Asinelli Tower".
Now that we know the monument´s history, our challenge is to climb the oldest medieval tower in the world.
Address: Di Porta Ravegnana Square
Magnificent and unfinished, the Basilica of San Petronio in Bologna should have been the largest Church in Christianity, even more significant than St. Peter´s in the Vatican.
A project was so ambitious as to force the Pope to work on it.
The construction of the Basilica, named after the city´s patron saint, bishop of Bologna in the V century, began on 7 June 1390 with the solemn laying of the foundation stone.
The end of the work was decreed in 1659 with the covering of part of the façade, which was still visibly incomplete.
The original project was entrusted to the architect Antonio Di Vincenzo.
One of the main reasons for the slow progress of the works was the exorbitant costs.
Pope Boniface IX even sent twenty confessors to the Extraordinary Jubilee to collect donations in exchange for indulgences and, in this way, finish the Basilica.
Inside San Petronio is the longest interior sundial globally, 68 metres long. Made by Giandomenico Cassini in 1655, the sun enters through a hole in the vault of the Church. It creates a circle of light that moves forwards and backwards every day. When it is perfectly cut in half, solar noon has been reached. It is so precise that it synchronises the town´s clocks.
The Church belonged to the municipality of Bologna until 1929, when, following the Lateran Pacts, the property became part of the diocese. It was solemnly consecrated in 1959. Since 2000 it has kept the relics of the city´s patron saint, which were held in the nearby Church of Saint Stefano. With132 metres long, 60 metres wide and 45 metres high, it is one of the largest churches in the world. It should have been the biggest, but it was impossible because it would have challenged St. Peter´s Basilica in the Vatican.
Two years after his election to the papal throne, in 1561, Pope Pius IV stated that the Bolognese university should have a unique, decent and dignified seat. He, therefore, decided that the Archiginnasio building would be erected in an area still available in Maggiore Square. Despite the protests of the Bolognese clergy, the Pope was adamant.
Thus began the construction of the Archiginnasio palace to become the permanent seat of the University of Bologna. But the real reason was that the Pope wanted to stop the expansion of the Basilica of San Petronio.
The church project included other extensions that would have made it the largest Church globally, even surpassing St. Peter´s Basilica. This eventuality did not have to happen.
The Pope, therefore, took advantage of the slow pace of work at San Petronio to have the university buildings constructed in less than two years. The space to enlarge the Church disappeared, and the ambitions to complete Antonio Di Vincenzo´s project.
Address: Maggiore Square
A STREET FULL OF STORIES
We will recommend a walk along a street so full of stories that you will not be disappointed.
D´Azeglio St. is the only large street in the historical centre where buildings were exempted from the entrance. It has always been very lively due to its proximity to Maggiore Square, which has been the worldly and political heart of the city.
The pedestrian street was once the centre of many events with its refined shops. One of them was a love story with tragic implications. On 24 January 1866, the City Council proposed renaming the street in honour of Massimo Taparelli, Marquis of Azeglio, writer, painter and statesman, royal commissioner for the Romagna region and son-in-law of the literary Alessandro Manzoni.
In 1321, Jacopo da Valenza, a university student, fell in love with and kidnapped the beautiful Giovanna Zagnoni, daughter of one of the most prestigious families in the city.
This became a great scandal, and the Podestà Giustinello da Teselgardi condemned the young kidnapper to death.
This caused a student revolt. Many left Bologna and moved to other university centres, such as Imola and Siena.
Pope John XXII, very concerned about the diaspora, contacted the revolt´s leaders and reached an agreement on condition that the Podestà humbled himself, admitting that he had exaggerated. Peace was signed, and a small church was built called Santa Maria Della Pace and Santa Maria Degli Scolari. The Church remained until 1813, after which it was demolished. As a reminder, at number 57, there is a bas-relief depicting the Madonna with the rector of the University.
Another curiosity of Via d´Azeglio is related to the Council of Trent. The meeting of all the world´s bishops lasted 18 years, from 1545 to 1563. During this time, the cornerstones of the reform of the Catholic Church and the reaction to the doctrines of Calvinism and Lutheranism were defined. Three council sessions were held in Via d´Azeglio 31, precisely on the ground floor of the Palazzo Sanuti Bevilacqua. Pope Paul III moved the conclave to Bologna because the plague was raging in Trent.
What else does this street hide? The outside plaque of the Church of San Procolo displays an epigraph: Si procul a Proculi Proculi bell fuisset - procul a Proculus Proculus, which means "if the bell of San Procolo had been far from Proculus, today Proculus would be far from San Procolo".
It seems that a pupil, called Proculus, woke up every morning to the bell of San Procolo, and he began to study. Because of his excessive study, he died and was buried inside the Church itself.
Today, the institute of maternity and infancy is in the convent annexed to the Church. Opposite, in an elevated position, you can admire the imposing former hospital of St. Procolo and the Innocents, with a vast entrance full of exquisite XVI century capitals.
Address: d’Azeglio Street
IN THE SHADOW OF THE ZIGÁNT
In the centre of Bologna´s main square stands one of the city´s most emblematic symbols: the Fountain of Neptune or the Zigànt (giant), so-called by the locals because of its large size (320 cm).
The work rests on a base of three steps, on top of which there is a basin covered with Verona marble.
Neptune stretches out his right hand towards the wind with a tremendous vertical thrust, almost as if to calm the waves.
Pier Donato Cesi commissioned the sculpture from the sculptor Giambologna to glorify the papal power of Pope Pius IV. As the god Neptune rules the waters, the Pope governs the world.
Built-in marble and bronze, the Fountain of Neptune have four little angels representing the Ganges, Nile, Amazon and Danube. At the feet of the divinity, four mermaids mounted on four dolphins frame the ensemble.
Although conceived for purely ornamental purposes, the Fountain of Neptune was also used by the Bolognese for practical purposes due to the inscription Populi Commodo written at its base, which means "to be used by the people". Vegetable sellers used it to clean their produce and Bolognese washerwomen to remove stains from their clothes.
According to Bolognese folklore, Giambologna intended to represent the god with more enormous genitals without being discovered and admonished by the Church.
The sculptor conceived the statue so that, from a particular angle, the thumb of the outstretched hand seemed to emerge directly from the lower abdomen, suggesting an erect penis. This shape is reflected on a black stone, called "shameful", placed in the square. Thanks to this, the Fountain of Neptune has earned a place among the city´s top secrets.
Take a break at the foot of this marvellous work of art or on any of the square´s terraces and enjoy life in one of the best settings in Bologna.
Address: Neptune Square
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